Four Vernon high school football players are on their way from one championship team to another.
Caden Danbrook, Zack Smith, Brady Szeman and Liam Reid were members of the Vernon Secondary Panthers teams that won the British Columbia 2A High School Championships in 2018 and 2019.
In January, all four inked scholarships to the University of Calgary, home of the 2019 Vanier Cup champion Dinos. There they’ll join their former VSS alumnus, defensive lineman Josh Hyer.
Before the players enter this next stage in their athletic careers, members of Calgary’s coaching staff spoke to the traits that made them stand out in the recruitment process, while Panthers head coach Sean Smith offered parting words to one of his most successful cohorts.
“I have been so fortunate to have been able to work with this group of young men from a young age,” Smith said. “Calgary has been one of the top U-SPORTS Football programs in the country over the past number of years — I hope these four boys can keep that winning tradition going.”
Danbrook is eager to learn from those ahead of him on the depth chart as well as from the excellent coaching present at Calgary. The 18-year-old receiver will have that opportunity when he suits up for the 2019 Vanier Cup Champions in 2020.
“Calgary has a winning program. They have great receivers that I can learn from and I feel Calgary is the best chance for me to become the best athlete I can be,” Danbrook said.
“The coaching staff is outstanding, I like the receivers coach, the offensive coordinator and felt Calgary is the best fit for me.”
Dinos offensive coordinator Jabari Arthur is familiar with Danbrook as he coached him in summer development camps as a young player.
“Caden has a great attitude and is not afraid to compete. His work ethic can take him a long way. He has great hands and a good route runner,” Arthur said.
“Caden runs the best routes of any player I’ve coached. He is able to stem really well and set up defenders with his footwork,” Smith said. “He reminds me of Julian Edelman from the Patriots, and I anticipate him being a slot receiver for the Dinos.”
The ever-versatile Smith was instrumental in leading VSS to its pair of Subway Bowl Championships. The 5-foot-10, 165-pound athlete quarterbacked the Panthers to the championship as a senior in 2019 while also playing defensive back. The previous year he was a receiver as well as a defensive back.
Smith was not only an Interior Conference all-star and MVP but was named MVP in 2A high school football in the province in 2019.
This past summer Smith was a starting member of Team BC at the Canada Cup tournament held in Kingston, Ont., as a defensive back but will start his tenure with the Dinos on the offensive side of the ball at receiver. He has excellent skills and can also be used as a return specialist.
Smith is familiar with the Dinos. The Dinos are also familiar with Smith as he attended their development camps as a youth player.
“Zack is a great athlete. He is a very quick, elusive player as well as being a very smart football player with good instincts. He can and has played multiple positions and is very dangerous with the ball in his hands,” said head coach Wayne Harris.
“I feel comfortable going to Calgary. I know the coaches from being at their development camp. Josh Hyer (defensive lineman with the Dinos) has been there and likes it,” Smith said in making his decision to become a Dino. He was also approached by Simon Fraser, Queen’s University and the University of Saskatchewan prior to committing to the Dinos.
Zack is the son of Sean and Kulwinder Smith. His father is the football coach at VSS.
“Zack is such a dynamic playmaker whether he played receiver, quarterback or defensive back for me,” Smith said. “He proved that he can throw it deep and could also hit the timing routes which is crucial if you want to play the position in U-SPORTS.”
Szeman was a starting member of the Panthers in grades 11 and 12. He played along the line and linebacker on defence as well as along the offensive line but will be used on the offensive side of the football with the Dinos.
“Brady is a versatile lineman who is a very intelligent and athletic player. He has the potential to be a great center at the U-SPORTS level and comes from an outstanding program,” recruiting coordinator Matt Berry said.
The 6-foot-2, 265-pound Szeman earned All District honors in his senior season at VSS and was a British Columbia 2A all-star in 2019. He was also named Most Outstanding Lineman in the Subway Bowl Final. This past summer he was a starting member along the offensive line for Team BC at the Canada Cup that was held in Kingston, Ont.
Brady played three seasons of senior football for head coach Sean Smith at VSS.
“I like the culture of the team that exists with Calgary. It is not that far from home, and Josh (Hyer) current defensive lineman really likes it in Calgary,” Szeman said.
“Brady has always been a great offensive lineman, but this year he took his game to a different level,” Smith said. “He was a rock for us whether he played guard or centre.”
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Reid earned Interior Conference and British Columbia High School Sports Association all-star recognition in his senior season along the defensive line for the Panthers. He named Defensive Most Valuable Player for the conference this past year.
“Liam Reid is an athletic big man. He has played multiple positions and excelled wherever he played. He has an edge to his game which will help him play against stronger competition,” Berry said.
In addition to playing for the Panthers, Liam was a starting member of the B.C. provincial team that competed in the 2019 Canada Cup tournament held in Kingston, Ont., this past summer.
“I like the family atmosphere present and know people (Josh Hyer and Carson Labrecque) with the program. Calgary is also close to home,” stated Reid, who also spoke with Simon Fraser and UBC and was approached by several Ontario schools but wanted to remain close to home.
Football is in Reid’s family. Liam’s uncle is former Canadian Football League star Angus Reid who had a distinguished career with the British Columbia Lions. Two of his other uncles, Bruce and Mark Reid, also played at Simon Fraser along with Angus.
“Liam made huge strides as a defender this year,” Smith said. “Give him time to fill out even more and he’s going to be dangerous as a linebacker or D-end at the next level.”
Editor’s note: this story was written prior to Monday, June 8, when it was announced by the Canada West Conference of U-SPORTS that fall term team sports such as football and soccer would be cancelling their seasons in the wake of COVID-19. All players will retain their years of eligibility
— With files from Jack Neumann